Iglesias' time in Minors may be short-lived
If offense picks up, shortstop will be mainstay with Red Sox
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Red Sox don't give their uniform No. 3 to just any Tom (Matchick), Dick (McAuliffe) and Grady (is a surname really necessary here?). No. 3 these days, some 70 years after Jimmie Foxx last wore it, belongs to Mike Aviles. He may not be Pete Runnels, Walt Dropo or Gary Geiger, but if he wears a single-digit number, he's got a better than even chance to play with some regularity.
That very thought probably passes through the mind of Jose Iglesias each time his arms pass through the sleeves of the Red Sox uniform top that carries No. 76 on its back, his uniform. Unless the Patriots have taken over, No. 76 carries a message -- call a realtor in Pawtucket.
If indeed the Sox's shortstop competition evolves as many folks around the Sox expect -- with Aviles winning the assignment -- Iglesias is likely to spend at least April and May in the lovely state of Rhode Island. But he would be wise to rent by the month, if possible and if his hitting in Triple-A picks up. His rent as well as his standing in the Red Sox's player hierarchy may go up before the summer is over -- and his uniform number might come down to something that has less to do with trombones, the Philadelphia franchise in the NBA and the 1700s.
Iglesias, who is ranked 11th among Boston's top prospects according to MLB.com, is next in line, after Aviles, to play shortstop for the team that signed him after his defection from Cuba, the club that has designs on playing late into October but that is without a bona fide big league shortstop in March. Aviles hardly is a ne'er-do-well, but he has yet to be confused with Troy Tulowitzki or Derek Jeter, and has yet to be compared with Barry Larkin or Nomar Garciaparra.
Boston manager Bobby Valentine has compared Iglesias to Rey Ordonez, also a Cuban defector and the Mets' shortstop during Valentine's time at Shea Stadium, and won Gold Glove Awards in 1997, '98 and '99.
Like Ordonez, Iglesias can dazzle in the field. Valentine, who was put off by Ordonez' unwillingness to take advice, sees more offensive potential in his 22-year-old right-handed-hitting prospect than he found in Ordonez. Iglesias provided another glimpse of his wizardry Thursday afternoon during the Sox's 9-3 loss to the Cardinals, their first defeat in four Grapefruit League games. He took a hit away from World Series MVP David Freese in the second inning, going into the Tony Gwynn hole and backhanding the ground ball. Freese had "scalded" it, according to Dustin Pedroia, who gushed about Iglesias during a subsequent rain delay.
"He's going to be a really, really, really good shortstop," said Pedroia.
Valentine has the same sense. He says Iglesias plays popups as if he equipped with a GPS. The manager marvels at the quickness of Iglesias' exchange when the shortstop is in middle man on a double play.
After Thursday's game, Valentine noted how Iglesias plays under control and that he is quite alert and in the proper position for cutoffs, bunts and pickoffs. Valentine said Iglesias is "trying to erase some of the [pre-camp] reports on him."
And just wait 'till he begins to hit; the Sox believe he will. Another "really" is in the offing. Iglesias did provide one piece of productive offense Thursday. All the Sox's runs scored on his opposite-field triple to right in the eighth inning. It tied the score before the Cardinals scored six times in the bottom of the inning.
Pedroia says he and Iglesias already are functioning as a unit, and more reps will make them more compatible. A work in progress seems to be the proper characterization.
The Sox get more production from second base, with Pedroia, and center field, with Jacoby Ellsbury, than most teams. And the offense derived from their other everyday sources is pretty good, too. They could carry Iglesias' glove and probably not suffer, but they probably can prosper as well with Aviles and not interfere with Iglesias' development. He is, after all, more about tomorrow than today.
So call the realtor in Pawtucket and wait a while.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.